How to build a wireless Midi drum?
I was always fascinated by the idea to be able to run around on stage playing drums when I perform. Especially with my main project Ego vs Emo where we do a mix of electronic dance music with Ableton Live + sax + drums, I ‚m always thinking about how to improve the possibilities of not being tight up to much to my hybrid drumkit while a whole crowd of hundreds of people going nuts to our music. I looked into different connection posibilities and did a project with a Guitar Hero Wii drum – which is easy to set up, cheap and stable but has a latency which is only allright for plaing pretty laid back HipHop stuff but not for ‚real‘ drumming, so more research and experiments to get a wireless midi drum needed to be done before I got to this result:
midiBEAM from Panda Midi solutions
The key for realising this idea was the midiBEAM wireless midi transmitter, which is doing a pretty stable and easy to set up connection. It says that it can transmit up to 250 meters in an open-air environment – which I didn’t try out but I went to different rooms in my flat to test how good it will transmit even if there are walls in between and it is pretty solid even if you are in the next room. It runs of two AAA batteries, is quite small and easy to fit or tape to a midi controller and has one standard midi plug – so the midi controller you want to use it with has to have a 5-pin midi socket. (If it only has USB you would need a USB to 5-pin midi translator, so this would mean you need a 2nd device to fit to your controller which would need to be powered) Another great feature of the midiBeam is that you can use this as MIDI to USB in/out converter for connecting other midi hardware to your computer/mac.
When thinking about building a wireless midi drum I was instantly thinking about carry frames from marching drums and to fit a few e-pads to this frame. I called up Drum-Tec, which you might know as one of the leading resellers for electronic drums but who have a marching drum departement as well and asked them if they could have a look if they have some advice. They tried fitting a few Roland pads onto one of their frames but their beginner model of a marching snare was so cheap that I went for this one and altered the idea of having e-pads to actually converting this accoustic drum to an electronic drum.
The conversion from accoustic to electronic
I wanted a proper drumming feel with this and finally got round to try out a few things which have a really good recommendation in the e-drumming scene:
And yes, this definately was the right pick for having a drum now with a really great playing feel and a really great trigger conversion.
Rathgeber Drums Trigger
I got in contact with Rathgeber Drums and told them about my idea and they were really helpful. As the rail where the trigger is sitting on needs to be mounted inside the drum on the tuning rackets and usually has different sizes (screws and distances), they customized a trigger bar for me, so that the installation was easy to do. (Thx so much Robert!) – This dual-zone trigger is pretty awesome and does a great job of picking up quiet to loud strokes and depending on your drum-modul this would be the real deal for accoustic to electronic conversion on a very high standard. Mounting of the rail and adjusting the trigger was pretty straight forward and didn’t take much time.
Drum-Tec mesh heads
It was my first time playing those 3 layered mesh heads and I have to say they earn the „real feel“ description. I don’t know if you know this feeling of playing a mesh head
and it feels fine, sticks are bouncing back allright but e.g. stuff like double strokes don’t feel the same like on an accoustic head, the ‚real feel‘ head from Drum-Tec feels very close to a tight tuned snare. I fitted a rim noise eliminator from Drum Tec as well and the conversion of the drum to a wireless midi drum was done.
Edrum-Modul – Roland TM-2
Last but not least I needed some sort of trigger to midi conversion through an Edrum modul, I decided to go with the Roland TM-2 because you can run this battery powered and it has a 5-pin midi socket, something a bit smaller and lighter would be more ideal but I am not aware of any product on the market which is designed for that purposes and has the specs I need (5-Pin midi, battery powered, dual-trigger input) – I guess I could build something based on arduino for this purpose but this would take up a lot of time and the TM-2 has pretty well done setting for threshold and cross-talks and programming this on your own might be a bit of a project.
Playing and latency
Ok so overall the playing and feel with this set-up is great, I run the midi into Ableton Live and trigger drum sounds in their (like I doing for all my performance drumming stuff) – but yes there is the big question of latency. My experience with this subject is: every drummer reacts, feels and drums different – so latency is not only a question of numbers in milliseconds here.
I can’t say for sure if using this chain (trigger – TM-2 – midiBeam – Ableton Live) will work for you but it does for me.
If we look at the numbers, PandaMidi is stating that the latency of 0.38 milliseconds when transmitting the midi, plus midi conversion in the TM-2, midi receiving in Ableton Live, processing in Ableton Live plus audio conversion – so there are a lot of factors and dots in this chain where (0.) milliseconds of latency will be added and using a computer/mac as a sound module might lead to small changes in this latency.
Many examples of performing drummers show that this latency changes doesn’t effect them, but you could still use a different sound module e.g. a second, receiving drum module (or anything else) which understands midi and converts this to sound to get different midi to sound latency values.
I have to say that the latency values and ‚feeling‘ I get playing this wireless midi drum is very satisfying.
Do you want to read more articles on this subject? Want to get access to online courses and Max for Live devices dedicated to drummers using Ableton Live? If yes you can support me being able to spend time on this AbletonDrummer project HERE